What time is it? Seasons, Memories, Dreams and Moments

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“Knowledge is authentic and complete only when it is a way of life, when beyond the mastery of a science there is scrupulous attention to what a good life means…”

Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne

What time is it?

Why we remember, what we remember and when we remember at any point in time is a mystery. Yet scattered memories can form unrelenting thoughts in our minds every day.  They also reveal mysterious connections in our nightly slumber where we can fly like a bird, fall without landing, or chat with someone we forgot. A dream could unfold a realistically bizarre scenario like a conversation about a leaking ceiling in a bar that turns into a plane.

Past, present, and future have always been marked by social events and seasons like winter, summer, spring, and fall or rainy and dry. Technology removed the limitations of these markers. With electricity, we work when the sun goes down but our body clocks still alarm to wake at day. We harvest tomatoes all year round with the help of greenhouses but they are not nearly as delicious as when eaten in season.

Before frequent flier air travel and the internet, our thoughts were more or less limited to our local communities and the occasional encounter; visit or visitor. Yet they were still influenced by human conditions like anger, sorrow, envy, frustration and shame that weigh on us; or courage, joy, hope, compassion, and love that lift us. Still, even then no-one could stop us from traveling in our dreams to see and to experience the new and the impossible that sometimes serendipitously reached into our waking lives or let us glimpse what was to come.

Who knows… maybe what we dreamed then reflected what we do now.

Written text took hold of our imaginations. Technology carried us beyond our communities. With radio we listened; With TV we watched; With computers, we now listen, watch, read, write, capture and communicate with mobile devices, that expect us to relinquish our thoughts and memories to their service; with the hope they serve us in return.

Devices war for our eyes, constantly trying to bring our attention to someone else’s moment by leading us away from moments of our own. Time and space are scattered with our bits and bytes, some of which we look for, stumble upon or have left for others to find.

A valuable commodity, time is bought and sold. Yet the purchase never comes with an unlimited guarantee. It can be taken away from our lived experience in a fraction of a second, tomorrow or years from today. It is not only linear but cyclical as African philosophers, remind us. So, we slowly return to incomplete text, like that of the Ethiopian, Zera Yacob, inaccurately relegated to a ‘pre-enlightenment’ age.

In this season, my present of presence is a lazy Sunday; music warming my soul, like the sunlight, letting my spirit soar; while the sound of raindrops on rooftops draw me into a billow of pillows that swallow me whole with comfort. A memory of dancing with family and friends. Laughing; lots of laughing. A reflected smile. The pleasure of biting into a delicious sun-kissed mango. It’s a dream. Yet I am awake. I am alive!

Seasons, memories and dreams collapse so there is just one inexplicable moment of utter peace.

It’s time for a toast.

Here’s to those moments.

Computing the Yin in our Yang?

‘Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness’

Anne Frank

I grew up hearing family stories of days of little. Stories which when retold seemed like days of lots. We have a collective nostalgia to ‘bring back the old time days’ or ‘make our countries great again’. Selectively reflecting on the authenticity of the past with scant appreciation for what’s genuine in the present. 

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Image Source: Pixhere

This nostalgia doesn’t always reflect poverty, loss, starvation or cruelty.  We delight in memories of what was done together. That which was exchanged, in equal measure. What was given and received. Like a cup of sugar for a pint of milk. A lift from a neighbour for no reason other than you were both headed the same way. The offer of a meal from someone else’s pot. 

The negative (-) and the positive (+), we encounter in our environment affect us.  Doctors in training can suffer from ‘medical school syndrome’. As they learn more and more about a particular disease, they can exhibit symptoms of the disease they intensely study – – -. Alternatively, symptoms may be relieved when given a placebo + + +. Something we think is medicine but is actually just water, maybe some Italian herbs. 

This isn’t helped by the ‘filter bubbles’ we live in that reinforce what we see and influence what we come to believe. For instance, Facebook experimented with the news feeds of hundreds of individuals. They showed them either a low number of positive posts or a low number of negative posts. Those shown more negative posts posted more negative comments – – –  while those shown more positive posts posted more positively + + +.

Born of Taoism/Daoism philosophy in 4th century B.C., Yin and Yang is one way of conceptualising negative and positive. This is entwined in Chinese medicine and cuisine too. Yin is the black side, feminine (+), dark, cold, a pull. Yang is the white side, masculine (-), light, hot, a push. Yin and Yang, are relative to each other. They complement, interconnect. Like water and fire, the moon and the sun, soft and hard, front and back, north and south, valleys and mountains, space and time.

Nothing is completely Yin or completely Yang.

There is Yin within Yin.

There is Yang within Yang.

Yang dwells within Yin.

Yin lives within Yang.

Yin can become Yang.

Yang can become Yin.

So, what are the algorithms for finding the Yin in our Yang? (+ + – = -) (- + – = +)?

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Symbol of Yin and Yang

Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

Cue – Manus: A hand to hold?

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Image Source: Libreshot

You are probably holding your phone in the palm of your hand right now, your fingers wrapped around it, thumb moving up, down. We hold our phones in our hands every day. It is a way to connect without being physically present. A study by University of Illinois researchers on ‘Phone Walkers’ in Paris found that people kept their phones in their hands even when they were switched off and even if they had handbags or pockets. Other research used attachment theory to explain why the attachment young people have to mobile phones can occur much like the attachment a child has to a stuffed toy.

Interestingly, ‘phone walkers’ were less likely to hold their phones if they were walking with someone of the opposite sex. However, holding hands isn’t just a romantic gesture, as perceived in Western culture. The need to connect with our hands starts from the womb, continuing after birth, as babies instinctively wrap their fingers around those of mum or dad, a palmar grasp reflex for reassurance. It’s a trait we share with primates. It isn’t just handshakes that are a sign of trust. Holding hands in other cultures like in India, Arab and African countries between not only women but men is not sexualised. Instead, holding hands is a sign of respect and friendship. Prominent figures like the Dalai Lama do this and so has Nelson Mandela. Holding hands has also been found to increase oxytocin, a hormone that decreases stress and helps with pain management.

Racismo

Image Source: Macca: Wikimedia Commons

In our hands are thousands of nerve endings that connect to our whole body, so what does it mean when we hold our phone more and more times each day? The inability to hold our phone brings anxiety and when reunited with it our stress is reduced and our confidence boosted. Unfortunately, using it can also bring distrust, hate, disrespect, intolerance, and insecurity, much like an unwanted gesture.

E-readers are used for convenience, however, at least for now, they have not been able to replace physical books, which have instead risen in popularity because of the inability to create the same tactile experience. Similarly, physically holding someone’s hand is different from the phone holding we always do. Technology is only a tool, much like the wood, we burned to make smoke signals centuries ago. Though it’s changing more rapidly than ever before it’s really our human connection that matters most. With reports that constantly holding our phones may be giving us a smartphone slump and emitting harmful radiation, let’s not replace the human hand with our phone.

As you touch each key quickly placing each finger across the other, you should give a palmar grasp of reassurance. Imagine what would happen if as we type we extended a hand of respect to someone not physically within our reach. What compassion we would both give and receive. Robotic hands that can feel now exist helping those who need them. 12325597985_e401b1399c_n

Image Source: Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma

The Latin root word ‘man’ is a gender-neutral term used to describe us, humans. The Sanskrit word for man is ‘Manus’. Manus means hand in Latin.  We see connections in words like manual, manifest, mandate and command. It is therefore suggested that the word hand and man are one and the same. Soon our hand may not be attached to a phone we can hold, but instead to a computerised assistant, we manufacture. One that could be made in our image. We won’t need to type a letter, we will just signal, we will just speak.

Cue –

Manus:

What do you want to do?

You: 

I want to go for a walk

… Let’s hold hands

Manus:

Ok?

Where is our Ark parked?

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Image Source: Paul Symes

‘The single raindrop never feels responsible for the flood’ 

Douglas Adams (Author, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)

The biblical story of Noah and the Ark symbolises the saving of humanity as the world fell into decay by erasing what existed and starting again. This flood metaphor, however, is long predated by Mesopotamian poets and the Flood Tablet, one of the world’s oldest existing pieces of literature.  It is also revealed in other religious and cultural texts from India, the Aztecs, Egypt and Scandanavia. Prompted by the voice of God, Noah gathered his immediate family, a male and female of each species on earth and lots of food in an ark he builds, a ship that only sailed when the world flooded. When the rain ends a dove is released to find out if they could emerge for their new beginning. 

The recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change giving us 12 years to clean up our act before the consequences of environmental destruction cannot be reversed reminded me of the story on a very rainy day. Noah, certain of the upcoming destruction decided to move ahead with this incredulous task for many years despite the jeers and naysayers. Today we have proof of the effects of global warming and increasing collective will yet not enough economic and political might to slow it down. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and erupting volcanoes have quickened pace. We have been hit by floods from rain which our grand-parents say falls a bit harder than before. We have been scorched by a hotter sun shining at a time that our great-grandparents say it hasn’t shone. The voice we hear is loud and we are all witness to environmental change and disasters.

A different Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, is also described in the bible. A structure created to house 10 commandments issued by God to guide human behaviour in ancient times. Do we create an Ark which tells us the rules by which all of us should abide?  One, that goes beyond religious, ethnic and cultural man-made distinctions? If so how will the rules form? who will be responsible? In the past few years technology has advanced at a rate faster than ever before in human history so what role will technology play? Are there rules being embedded in the technology we use? Will the world speak with one voice and build a Tower of Babel to overcome our collective irks and maybe rocket us all to another planet in the galaxy? Or are we each just going to build our own ark.

The rich in Silicon Valley have been building their mini personal arks, and I’ll hazard a guess, that they don’t have any animals on board. People have gone looking for these arks but their existence hasn’t been scientifically proven and they have not been definitively found.

Where is your ark parked? Does anyone know where our ark is parked?

Can a dove help us find it?

‘Let your love be like the misty rain, coming softly but flooding the river’ 

Liberian proverb

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Image Source: Ayuugyi [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Aliens are already here…

‘The genie is out of the bottle. We need to move forward on artificial intelligence development but we also need to be mindful of its very real dangers. I fear that AI may replace humans altogether. If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that will outperform humans.’ 

Professor Stephen Hawking

Computer Science Woman Artificial Intelligence

Source: Max Pixel

Space enthusiasts have been forever arguing for the existence of life beyond earth. Researchers and popular culture speculate on alien encounters and potential alien take-over. Scientists suggest that Artificial Intelligence can help us to find aliens on other planets. Yet it seems like we may have been creating aliens all on our own even if we didn’t know it. These aliens have not come from ‘out of space’. Informed by the data we inevitably give they are not only a mirror of us but an exaggeration of our good, bad and our terrifyingly ugly. They know who we are and increasingly what we think. They are becoming better at predicting what we will do and where we will be. In the seminal book by George Orwell, 1984 that I’ve read more than once, there were few places where you could just be in a world characterised by surveillance. It’s the same today for anyone using technology or anyone who happens to be in its vicinity.

It’s worth reading/watching Wired Magazine’s ‘When Tech Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself’ which features an interview with Yuval Harari and Tristan Harris. They explain how our brains have been hacked, what have been the real world consequences, and what may be yet to come. They also give some practical ideas on how to start dealing with this by suggesting you acknowledge what is happening and gain more self-awareness. I agree it’s not a solution, but it’s the only way to start.

Aliens are watching you right now.

Aliens are already here…

An answered call…

Hello!

“Another world is not only possible, it’s already on her way.

On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Arundhati Roy.

I love reading and I love writing, especially poetry. My curiosity about what it means to be and how we use and change the technology we create to interpret that has increased exponentially with the birth of my son. It’s what made me yield to my mindful, inner push to create and to write here today. Even though the site is not at all perfected and this takes 20 minutes away from working on my thesis, that keeps shouting at me about that looming deadline.

I guess it really is no coincidence that I am doing a PhD in Web Science,  which looks at how the web intersects with the every day. It tries to bring greater understanding of fields, worlds, outside of what we call our own by forging new ideas and different connections for a positive way forward.

I’ll be posting here articles and opinions on technology-related issues, how we impact them and they impact us. My poetry and prose will I hope also inspire, and I’ll link you to any authors that I find interesting and thought-provoking. Let’s see what comes from answering this moment’s call. I hope you hear and answer your nagging call today too.

Ring…

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